Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rwanda Minister of Health wins $100,000 Roux Prize

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Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, a trained pediatrician and Minister of Health of Rwanda has won the Roux Prize, for turning evidence into health impact, rebuilding her country's war-torn health system and creating initiatives to improve indoor air quality and combat neonatal deaths.

She is the second winner of the Roux Prize, worth a US$100,000 which is given by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and is named for founding board member David Roux and his wife, Barbara.

It was launched in November 2013 and it is the world’s largest award for evidence-based public health achievement. She will be presented with the Roux Prize at a ceremony in Washington, DC, today on October 21.

Dr. Binagwaho has been using Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data and evidence from the Ministry’s own data-gathering efforts to ensure the country’s limited resources are saving the most lives and reducing suffering.

Dr. Binagwaho was working as a pediatrician in France when the Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994. When she returned to her country in 1996, most of the health system infrastructure had been destroyed and many health workers had been killed or fled the country.

“There was no trust in the health system, no medications, and no tools to provide health care,” said Dr. Binagwaho. “I remember coming back with kilos of meds in my bag, just to be able to provide care.”

Dr. Binagwaho’s work was part of a wider effort led by the government of Rwanda to rebuild the country from the ground up and ensure that even the poorest citizens could receive health care.

After directly caring for patients as a physician, Dr. Binagwaho served as Executive Secretary of the National AIDS Control Commission and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health. In 2011, she was appointed Minister of Health.

Dr. Binagwaho has been an active user of GBD data since 2012 and eventually joined the GBD enterprise as part of the international collaborative network, which now totals more than 1,400 contributors from 115 countries. GBD is a systematic, scientific effort to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries, and risk factors. Along with Dr. Bingawaho, more than 20 Rwandans now collaborate on the GBD study.

“The Global Burden of Disease, by creating and generating data, helps us understand where we need to invest the next dollar, the next effort, the next education initiative,” said Dr. Binagwaho.

Dr. Binagwaho has overseen a remarkable improvement in the health of Rwandans. GBD data revealed that between 1990 and 2013, Rwandan life expectancy increased by about 15 years for both men and women, one of the strongest increases of any country in the world.

Healthy life expectancy has also risen dramatically, by roughly 12 years for both sexes since 1990. Much of this improvement can be mapped directly to policies and investments that Dr. Binagwaho has instituted.

For example, after looking at GBD estimates and finding that household air pollution was the leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the country, Rwanda started a program to distribute 1 million clean cookstoves to the most vulnerable households. 

On a recent fact-finding trip, IHME interviewed families who have received these cookstoves and found that not only is the air they breathe much cleaner, but they are also spending less money on cooking fuel, allowing them to devote more of their household budget to healthier foods.

Dr. Binagwaho and her staff also analyzed GBD data to see where and how they could improve the country’s health and found a large percentage of Rwandans were dying during the first months of their lives. 

They decided to embark on a campaign to decrease neonatal deaths. After investing money in education, equipment, and training in neonatology at hospitals throughout the country, the neonatal mortality rate has started to decrease.

“Whether you are in the capital of Kigali or out in a rural hospital, health policy decisions are being made based on data in Rwanda,” said Tom Achoki, IHME Director of African Initiatives. “The Honorable Minister has made it a priority not only to educate the Ministry in how to produce and analyze quality data, but how to use data to effectively and efficiently overcome Rwanda’s health challenges.”

“In the course of her work leading Rwanda’s health policy and planning, Honorable Minister Binagwaho has come to embody what Dave and Barbara Roux had in mind when they conceptualized the Roux Prize: using rigorously derived evidence to improve health in her community,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of IHME and co-founder of GBD. “Dr. Binagwaho is not just using disease burden data to improve health – she and her staff at the Ministry of Health are committed to making the Global Burden of Disease study stronger and more useful by vetting its results and addressing data gaps.”

Now an ongoing enterprise with annual updates, GBD is an international, collaborative effort with more than 1,400 researchers in 120 countries, led by IHME. Results are regularly published in peer-reviewed journals for more than 300 diseases, injuries, and risk factors, by age, gender, and country. Results from the latest updates through 2013 are available in a series of online data visualization tools at

The Roux Prize is intended for anyone who has applied health data and evidence in innovative ways to improve population health. Nominees may come from anywhere in the world and could include, but are not limited to, staff in government agencies, researchers at academic institutions, volunteers in charitable organizations, or health providers working in the community.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dear Blog Reader. Help us do Science!

Dear blog reader, thank you for reading my blog. I have partnered with Paige Brown Jarreau of Manship School of Mass Communication, LSU, Ph.D. Mass Communication, Louisiana State University to carry out a survey of my blog’s readership.

My blog, was selected from a wide sample of science bloggers around the world to participate in an unprecedented study of science blog readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Uganda sciegirl and contributing to novel academic research on the readers of science blogs. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete.

For completing the survey, you will be entered into a drawing sponsored by! for a $50.00 Amazon gift card (100 available, or guaranteed 2 per specific blog included in this survey), as well as for other prizes (t-shirts). Every single participant will also receive an art perk from Paige Brown Jarreau

Survey link:

Thanks!! Esther

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Publics Rights To Information in Uganda Day commemorated

By Esther Nakkazi

On September 28, 2015, Uganda commemorated International Right to Know Day (RTK) with celebrations marking the 10th Anniversary of the Access to Information Act (ATIA), which promotes the right of access to public information held by the State.

During the celebrations held alongside the 2015 Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa, experiences, lessons and challenges relating to ATIA, which was passed back in 2005, were discussed. The event also served as the launch of the 2015 report on the State of the Right to Information in Africa.

Uganda was the first country in East Africa to adopt an access to information law. It was followed by Rwanda in 2013, making the two land locked nations the only ones out of the five countries that constitute the East African Community (EAC) with existing Access to Information laws. However, regulations to actualise the implementation of ATIA in Uganda were only passed six years later in 2011.

10 years on, the country has made significant strides. The Uganda Debt Network reports that at least 62 percent of Ugandans can access budget information. Hilda Namagembe said Uganda ranks among the 19 countries able to provide substantial budget information, the challenge, however, is if they cannot tell if the citizens are using the information for action.

Teacher transfers to fill gaps in schools, better budget allocations and improved public health service delivery to grassroots communities including the availability of medicine in health facilities are some of the other reported ways the right to information has successfully improved livelihoods.

Meanwhile, in order to encourage more citizens to exercise their right, in August last year, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) through the Ministry of Information and National Guidance in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Africa Freedom OF Information Centre (AFIC) launched the online portal - Ask Your Government ( to enable citizens to directly query Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Government of Uganda for information.

Proactive release of information however is low, while the culture of secrecy and fear of reprisal remains prevalent. According to Gilbert Sendugwa the Executive Director, AFIC, “many Ugandans still do not understand what it means to have the Access to Information Act”. Sendugwa added that building awareness, demand and creating responsiveness was required in order to improve the ATIA knowledge among citizens.

Silvia Birahwa from the Directorate of Information and National Guidance noted that as a result of the delay in passing ATIA’s regulations, they have had different levels of compliance within government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), with some government officials compliant and others making little or no responses to requests for information.

Kenneth Lubogo, a Member of Parliament for Bulamogi County in Kaliro district said it was imperative to make the whole system mandatory, so that government information officers have a reason to do it.

Birahwa said that Information officers within various MDAs reported a lack of capacity including limited access to internet and a lack of interest as barriers to the release of information.

Accordingly, the recently updated government communication strategy is aimed to better equip Chief Information Officers within the MDAs to better respond to information requests and to aid the progress of the ATIA.

In recognition of some MDAs who have adopted the right to information and exercise this by promptly and adequately responding to information requests, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) received an award for their commitment to the consistent and prompt release of information using the website. Dennis Obbo the Principal Information Scientist at MLHUD received the award on behalf of the Ministry.

The celebrations to mark a decade of ATIA were hosted by AFIC and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) together with the Office of the Prime Minister.

Dear blog reader, thank you for reading my blog. I have partnered with Paige Brown Jarreau of Manship School of Mass Communication, LSU, Ph.D. Mass Communication, Louisiana State University to carry out a survey of my blog’s readership. 

My blog, was selected from a wide sample of science bloggers around the world to participate in an unprecedented study of science blog readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Uganda sciegirl and contributing to novel academic research on the readers of science blogs. It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete.

For completing the survey, you will be entered into a drawing sponsored by! for a $50.00 Amazon gift card (100 available, or guaranteed 2 per specific blog included in this survey), as well as for other prizes (t-shirts). Every single participant will also receive an art perk from Paige Brown Jarreau

Survey link:

Thanks!! Esther

Internet Freedom Forum calls for Safety

By Esther Nakkazi

The second Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa kicked off in Uganda with a call for Internet safety in the face of Internet freedom.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) hosted the Forum bringing togather human rights defenders, journalists, government officials, academia, bloggers, developers, the arts community, law enforcement agencies and communication regulators.

The two-day event 28 and 29 September 2015, in Kampala, Uganda at the Golf Course Hotel and coincided with the International Right to Know Day.

The Forum serves as a platform to discuss how the current state of internet freedoms in Africa said Wairagala Wakabi the CEO CIPESA. He said the main work of CIPESA is to use research to improve ICT policy in Africa.

Jaco du Toit, the Adviser for Communication and Information, UNESCO regional office for Eastern Africa said there is growing concern about monitoring mechanisms on the Internet.

“Authorities have tended to resort to more direct forms of internet censorship, such as the harassment or arrest of bloggers and online journalists, rather than sophisticated URL blocking or systematic filtering because they did not yet have the technical capability to do so,” said Jaco.

He said the new media has brought new possibilities of interaction between the media and public and said the Forum should consider discussions on a range of issues including data surveillance, self regulation and hate speech.

Crystal Simeoni from Hivos East Africa said Internet Freedom should not be for techies and human rights defenders only but should spark conversations among even the local people and create connections for the public to participate.

She said as Hivos they are considering exploring the issues of privacy and access to information because from the consultations they have done these have very few voices and there is huge gap.

In Africa, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the private sector, academia and ordinary citizens are increasingly utilizing online tools for social and economic engagement, online debate, advocacy and business development.

A panel on ‘electioneering and extremism in the digital age’ with Gbenga Sesan from Paradigm Initiative (PIN) Nigeria, James Marenga from NOLA Tanzania , Nanjira Sambuli from Umati/IHub Research Kenya and Emma Belinda Were from Uganda Media Centre discussed among other things if the Internet needs to be controlled.

They all agreed that Internet users should be responsible for whatever they post on social media. They also discussed how government should regulate online space but cautioned that government ‘control’ of the online space is out of the question.

It is true that as more people join the Internet, control of what they say online is not easy. However, governments are increasingly aware of the potential influence of online publications and bloggers.

Marenga said all governments across the world want to see information that favors them but there should be no control of the Internet. Sesan explained how Nigeria has moved from not being able to say anything to being able to say just anything online.

So many Nigerians who cannot face someone and say something have taken to the Internet to say whatever they want online but in so doing the users have matured.

Although Emma Were had at first said it would be necessary for Governments to control the Internet in the face of the misinformation that users send out, citing the many government officials that Ugandans have been killed by social media she later back tracked on it.

Citing the same issues that happen in Kenya, Nanjira Sambuli said people 'die' all the time on Kenyan social media but increasingly online users have learnt to ask questions to verify the information.

“When you are online there are some people you look for authenticity,” said Sambuli. “We should not control what people say online, but always encourage them to ask for evidence.”

“If you 'control' the Internet you create a black market of information said Gbenga Sesan.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jail time for killing others on Social Media

By Esther Nakkazi

For the moment it is wise to cross check death announcements that come through social media in eastern Africa. In the region 'social media deaths' are becoming a common notice. Somehow, a tweet will do the rounds of someone who has died before you know it main stream media has picked it up.

Undoing that requires the officials to appear in public to dispel it. But not anymore for Ugandans who do it.  The government of Uganda is working on a new law to control the use of social media according to the State Minister for Internal Affairs, James Baba.

Minister Baba was quoted by Unwanted Witness,, which had an exclusive interview with him and he said the government is working on a new social media law. 

Concerns have been made by government officials who had been 'killed' by social media but had no law to even summon the offenders. The Parliament committee on ICT was alerted and its the one spearheading this initiative. But is is said that offenders might get big penalties or jail time.  

Pamela Ankunda, ministry of internal affairs spokesperson revealed that the process of having the regulation in place is on course. “The minister hinted on the bill and it should be on cabinet’s order paper now,” Ankunda told Unwanted Witness.

Once endorsed, the social media regulation bill will be added to a list of already existing cyber laws such as the computer misuse act, the anti-pornographic law and the regulations of interception of communications act which all focus on narrowing the online expression space.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What will Uganda get out of the Innovation Africa 2015 Forum?

By Esther Nakkazi

Nothing seems to work out right in Uganda, except for a few things that are hard to come by and you have probably heard that phrase many times. So its nothing new you say to yourself.

So I am attending this Innovation Africa 2015 Summit with the theme ‘Developing Skills for the 21st Century Africa’ organized by Africa Brains. The host, Hon Maj Dr. Jessica Alupo Rose Epel – Minister of Education, Science Technology & Sports, opening speech started as usual with Uganda is open for business.

She said ‘there is no better gathering than Innovations Africa for government and industry partnerships’ and yes it was such a well-organized conference but it made me curious to know if Uganda has clinched any deals during such forums.

We got talking after listening to Rwanda. Of course, it has to be Rwanda. On the sidelines of the Innovation for Africa conference held in Kigali in 2014, Rwanda signed an agreement with Positivo BGH, a Latin American multinational, which manufactures laptops, computers, tablets, and other electronic gadgets, to put up a production plant in Kigali.

What my source- a government official by the way- told me is that Positivo BGH had first approached the Uganda government officials before going to Rwanda. Everyone they talked to in Uganda was happy with them and they have a real profile, the firm has an annual turnover in excess of $2.5 billion annually and with over 40 years of experience.

When I say happy, all the Ugandan officials including the Ministers in charge and the Uganda Investment Authority who the Positivo BGH company approached agreed that indeed it was a good investment but no one could take the decision to approve it.

That is the problem they say no one takes the initiative and there are no clear guidelines as to how approval should be done. So while Ugandans were going round in circles, which took forever, the Rwanda government was approached.

In three days, the deal was done and approved. 20,000 hectares of land were immediately allocated to them. Right now, the assembly factory is in place and operational. It produces 12,000 laptops per month with the capacity of increasing production as we have heard at the Innovation Africa 2015 Summit happening now in Uganda.

They have given thousands of Rwandans jobs who do not have to import computers or phones anymore and they are thinking of supplying the whole of East Africa said Dr. Celestin Ntivuguruzwa – Permanent Secretary for Education, Rwanda.

So I do not know how to end this blog without envy for Rwanda but I think Uganda should style up. I am waiting for the deals Uganda will clinch at this Innovation Africa 2015 conference. I am sure as usual there will be none but we will be happy that we hosted the Summit.

And I see it happening for other 26 countries in attendance like Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, DRCongo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Cameroon, Tunisia, Zambia. They will all unlike Uganda take something tangible out of it.